When creating content, it can be easy to overlook your own mistakes. Because you know the overall message the content is supposed to display, it can be hard for you to notice the small errors in spelling, grammar, and formatting elements such as page numbering and fonts. However, these may not go unnoticed by someone looking to buy your book or hire you for your services. Mistakes in your content give off an air of unprofessionalism, and with the incredibly stiff competition in the global online marketplace, first impressions count. Big time.
Maybe you’ve already invested in a professional content or developmental edit, which addressed big picture issues, and hopefully followed that up with a copyediting service to deal with technical issues such as grammar, consistency, and clarity. So why do you also need a proofreading service?
What to Expect from a Proofreader
With books, a proofread is a very specific thing. It’s editing performed on galley proofs or page proofs, not manuscript pages. When you edit for spelling or grammatical mistakes on a manuscript, that is copyediting. Proofreading does look for these same issues to make sure that:
- they were all caught and corrected in the copyediting phase
- nothing new was introduced in the conversion or otherwise
- any last-minute copy added to the manuscript post-copyedit is polished
Proofreading also looks at additional issues specific to page proofs, such as:
- the use of fonts (like making sure the right font is used for different headers)
- the flow and placement of page numbers, running heads, and other design elements
- the size of margins and other uses of white space
- the appearance and placement of any illustrations or graphical elements
This is the very last stage before files go to press, so catching typographical errors is an important part of the process.
In addition to reviewing page proofs before your book goes to print, a professional proofreading service can read over your articles, letters, or blog posts in order help you to give your documents and posts a polished appearance. Though technically the publication of digital content items won’t involve page proofs, many people still consider the last “microscopic” editorial pass to be proofreading online.
When working with a good proofreader, be prepared to see proofreading symbols and abbreviations, which may look super weird to you at first. Don’t be alarmed: These are most common when working with established publishers and working on printed galleys or page proofs. When working digitally, proofreaders may make edits directly into design files or PDFs of the designed pages.
5 Things to Look Out for When Proofreading Your Own Work
Overall, a professional proofreading service is a beneficial investment if you are serious about your written work. It can be easy for you and others not specialized in proofreading to look over simple mistakes, which will make you look unprofessional. A professional proofread is especially useful if you had a very short and rushed production phase, if you added a lot of new material during the copyediting phase, or if you simply had a lot of errors throughout and want to make absolutely sure you’ve resolved them all.
That said, of the three primary types of book editing, proofreading is perhaps the easiest for most authors to do themselves and therefore a place to save a little money if you’re on a tight budget. If you’re not a professional proofreader, the following tips will help you proofread your own work before you hit “send.” Here are my five top tips:
- Look closely for document errors: This refers to line spacing, page numbering, footnote insertion, headers and footers, bibliographical symbols that correlate to an assigned page, margin spacing, and paragraph spacing. Know what your ideal page layout and design is and then compare every page in your book to ensure consistency. Looking for document errors can be an exhausting, boring task, but very worth the effort. Pat yourself on the back for trudging forward in your document error search.
- Check against your copyedits. When you’re new to self-editing, it’s a good idea to be extra careful. Get out that copyedited manuscript and compare it to your page proofs, online or in hard copy, to make sure all the changes you carefully worked through in the last editing phase show up properly in the final files.
- Correct new spelling and punctuation errors: Believe it or not, errors are often introduced by the design and formatting process, no matter how careful you are. The worst thing you can do while proofreading on your computer is to assume that if your spellchecker didn’t catch it, it must be okay. No spell-checking or editing program is perfect, and the ones built into programs like Microsoft Word are notorious for their underperformance. They aren’t nuanced enough to understand style differences with punctuation (it’s not always a black and white choice!), and they also won’t catch words that are spelled correctly but may be incorrect, like if you accidentally type “their” when you really mean “there.” The best advice is to run your native spell-check, but then try additional, more robust tools. At the Writer’s Ally, we love AutoCrit and Grammarly (their free plugins are awesome!).
- Find other typographical errors: It’s amazing how many typographical errors, commonly known as “typos,” get past you when you proofread your own work. Things like a single letter that just sits alone between words, the results of “fat fingering,” or other errors made from typing mistakes (rather than ignorance) fall into this category. Being blind to these mistakes happens easily because you get accustomed to the material on the page when you’re the one who typed it! For this reason, when proofreading your own work you need to shake things up: Try printing the pages out and reading on hard copy (or online, if you were working on hard copy previously); use your finger or a pencil to point to each word (it’ll slow you down beneficially); read aloud as you go, or have someone read out loud to you.
- Know the difference between “style” and “mistake.” For a creative endeavor, writing sure has a lot of rules! But did you know that not all rules are inflexible? In fact, some “rules” we all learned in our school years are choices of style that you can “break” without being incorrect. For example, the use of the serial comma, whether you capitalize certain words in certain circumstances, and even punctuation like an em dash versus a semi-colon or colon. Professional proofreaders rely on style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style (the most common for commercially published books), and you will also learn a lot from a few good books on grammar. We highly recommend Woe is I by Patricia O’Connor and ActionGrammar by Joanne Feierman.
Of course, proofreading goes well beyond the above list. This’ll give you a great head start, but be sure to check out How to Save Money on Proofreading with These 10 Tips, too. Then, head over to 20 Typography Mistakes Every Beginner Makes for a more detailed checklist of items to look for in your page proofs.
Want some practice while you get a good chuckle? Try spotting the errors in these poorly proofread items: http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/14-worst-typos-ever
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